We all like to spend a little extra cash on our cars when we buy them. Even those of us who like a bargain have a fancy to splashing out some more on some choice options. A nicer stereo. Some leather for the seats. Maybe the old favourite of a sunroof?
Nothing wrong with any of that of course, but the biggest battleground in motoring is safety, and not just safety of the car’s occupants. When EuroNCAP first started giving crash test results for cars in the nineties, the ratings often made for sobering reading. Cars, cars we assumed to be solid and safe, were horribly prone to folding up in an impact and doing serious damage to their occupants.
NCAP changed all that, and from the first five-star safety result (the 2001 Renault Laguna if anyone asks you in a pub quiz) our cars have become better and better at protecting us. In fact, so good did they become that NCAP had to alter and tinker with the way the test is scored, just to stop everyone scoring a tip-top five star rating.
The real challenge though is making cars safer to those on the outside. While we have dramatically cut the number of people killed on Irish roads in the past decade, the sad fact is that 166 people died, needlessly, on the road in 2015. Of that number, 32 were pedestrians, people who probably assumed that they were perfectly safe, and in many cases, people who had gone out for a drink, done the right thing by walking home, yet managed to stumble into the path of an oncoming car.
Pedestrian detection systems can help us dramatically cut that death toll. A development of the Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) systems introduced around 2008 and 2009, pedestrian detection uses a series of sophisticated cameras, radar and software to realise when someone has just stepped off the kerb in front of you. It automatically throws on maximum braking when that happens, potentially stopping the car entirely before any impact, or at the very least reducing the severity of that impact. Don’t underestimate that last part – just a few kilometres per hour of difference at the point of impact can make the difference between a minor knock and a fatal accident.
Autonomous Emergency Braking and EuroNCAP
So important is pedestrian detection in safety terms that EuroNCAP is now going to start using it as part of a car’s overall safety rating. “The inclusion of AEB Pedestrian in the rating is a key milestone in the development of automotive safety that will help the proliferation of the crash avoidance technology into all segments of the market. At the same time, to provide accurate and clear information to consumers about the latest systems and what benefit they might bring, is becoming more challenging. The dual rating will simplify the choice for the safest car”, says Dr Michiel van Ratingen, Euro NCAP Secretary General.
The dual rating mentioned there is to allow for a more detailed examination of a car’s safety performance. Currently, EuroNCAP crash tests a representative model from each range, usually the best-selling one, and rates it on the basis of what safety equipment is fitted as standard. A dual rating will allow customers to see if there is a significant difference in terms of the safety if optional extra systems are fitted.
In the latest round of crash tests, extra equipment helped the new Toyota Prius to get the first five-star score of 2016, while optional safety extras can lift the new Suzuki Baleno hatchback’s rating from a disappointing three-stars to a more solid four-stars.
How important is safety in car purchasing?
Will that be enough to get buyers to make the switch? It’s doubtful. We have a poor record of taking up optional extra safety systems in Ireland, usually preferring to spend the same money on things we can touch and see – alloys wheels, a nicer interior, sporty bodykits; that kind of thing. Really, we need to get over that mental block and start remembering that our cars can be as deadly to those around us as they are to those inside. Systems such as AEB and pedestrian detection can shave vital microseconds from reaction times, or eliminate the worry of a driver being distracted or dozy.
After all, we’re all pedestrians at some point…